In closed session, investigator to share findings of two-year query into police department’s response to complaints about officer’s retirement party

The findings of a two-year investigation into the Southold Town Police Department’s response to community complaints about an officer’s retirement party will be presented to the Town Board in an executive session Tuesday, members have confirmed.

Town Supervisor Scott Russell, who has not yet reviewed the findings of attorney Justin Block, said he is “sure the public will be updated as soon as possible.” He said it is premature to discuss any discipline that might result from the investigation. 

Mr. Block, a past president of the Suffolk County Bar Association, was hired as an independent investigator in a split vote of the Town Board in June 2020. The retirement party, held just weeks earlier on May 29, was for Sgt. Steven Zuhoski, who worked his final shift that evening after nearly 24 years with the department. Photos of the event, most of which were removed from social media the following day, showed dozens of partygoers present at Sgt. Zuhoski’s Cutchogue tree farm, despite Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s orders limiting gatherings to just 10 individuals in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Four town residents later told The Suffolk Times that they had contacted police about the party. Their calls were verified through cellphone call histories, though no official police report was ever generated by the police department. Witnesses interviewed by a reporter at the time estimated that upwards of 150 people attended the event, which included bagpipers and a fireworks show. One photo viewed by The Suffolk Times showed a patrol car at the party. 

Reports of the event and the department’s apparent lack of response generated complaints to town officials.

Mr. Block was hired after a preliminary investigation into the response by town Police Chief Martin Flatley was deemed insufficient by Supervisor Scott Russell and other board members. The Suffolk County District Attorney’s office had also launched an investigation, records show.

Invoices filed by Mr. Block and posted to the town’s website show the town has paid about $9,500 for work performed on the investigation through last October. The most recent invoice posted to the site was paid in February 2022, records show.

A police sergeant, three police officers and two dispatchers were among those interviewed during the investigation, according to the invoices.

The Town Board is scheduled to meet with Mr. Block in a closed session at 9 a.m., according to an agenda of the meeting. The room will then be open to the public for a work session immediately following the executive session. A regular meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday.

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